Harpur dean candidate: Elizabeth Chilton
February 27, 2017Tweet
The arts and sciences are vital for preparing students for the world they will inherit, Harpur College dean candidate Elizabeth Chilton said at a presentation on Feb. 24.
“I think the liberal arts and sciences are critical to an informed and socially responsible society,” Chilton said. “Employers need students who are ready for change. So does the rest of the world, whether it’s (dealing with) environmental change, technological changes or globalization crises.”
Chilton, the associate vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, spoke to faculty, staff and students during an hour-long open presentation in the University Union. Chilton, who is also an anthropology professor at UMass-Amherst, was the final dean candidate to speak on campus. John McCarthy, also from UMass-Amherst, visited on Feb. 16, while Cynthia Renee McDonald from Southern Methodist University visited on Feb. 21.
While noting the importance of the arts and sciences, Chilton added there are ways that schools such as Harpur College can “strengthen the foundation.” One example is the communication and advocating of the arts and sciences.
“A clear vision – and even branding – can help communicate what we agree are the benefits of a liberal arts education,” Chilton said.
Part of that communication is “building a sense of community” that starts with faculty and eventually incorporates students.
“There are opportunities to connect students to the college in ways that allow them to become ambassadors for the mission of the arts and sciences,” Chilton said.
Schools that emphasize dealing with world changes must also be willing to adapt and change themselves, she added, as liberal arts students need and desire skills such as data analysis and visual communication.
“They are hungry for real-world problem solving,” Chilton said.
Chilton told the audience that one of the biggest challenges facing the next Harpur dean is something she thinks a lot about as an administrator: balancing leadership and management.
“You absolutely must have someone on top of the day-to-day management of the college: Creative problem solving, crisis management, keeping the trains running on time at a large, diverse college like this,” she said. “But that’s not enough. Leadership requires something more: creating and promoting a vision, and working with others to create a strategy for coping with the changes and opportunities, while advocating for the college in the context of a larger university.”
Chilton also stressed being sensitive to the disciplinary and epistemic diversity in the school, as there are different degree types and resource needs for each of the disciplines.
“What makes a great Art Department? What makes a great Anthropology Department? “What makes a great Math Department? Those are going to be three different answers based not only on local culture, but also national standards and benchmarking where it is we want to go.”
Increasing sponsored research is another challenge – and opportunity, she said.
Sponsored research can cost universities money, “but the production of knowledge is as important as the dissemination of knowledge,” Chilton said. “That’s what students get by being in an immersive research university.”
The final challenge issued by Chilton was a commitment to diversity, access and inclusion: “We need to make the climate more hospitable and welcoming for people in a wide variety of diverse backgrounds,” she said.
Chilton said her training and experience in anthropological archeology has served her well as an administrator.
“The fields of archeology and anthropology reach across the sciences and the humanities,” she said. “My own teaching and research have involved collaborations with colleagues in geology, foresting, chemistry, history, psychology, public health and African-American studies.”
During her time as chair of the Anthropology Department at UMass-Amherst, Chilton said she was able to develop skills in faculty recruitment (including the recruiting of diverse members), retention and promotions.
As associate dean, Chilton said she worked across disciplines in promotion and tenure cases, while also assisting with sponsored research. Now associate vice chancellor of research and engagement, Chilton supports research missions across nine schools and colleges and 60 centers and institutes.
Chilton said she gained respect and appreciation for “the vast array of arts and sciences” at public research universities when she transferred as a student from Vassar College to SUNY Albany.
“I was able to explore other interests not directly pertinent, such as photography and music,” she said. “Both are important to my life to this day.”
The student viewpoint would be important as dean, Chilton said. She discussed the work of former UMass-Amherst Dean Janet Rifkin, who not only taught a one-credit “book club,” but would also interact with students via a weekly lunch.
“She told me that hearing from the students was one of the best parts of her week,” Chilton said. “She would learn about their problems and opportunities. I certainly know that the dean’s schedule is tight and I don’t know in a large college if a once-a-week lunch with students would work. But it would be something to aspire to. It keeps you connected.”